When exploring the shadow I work with the idea that we are all made up of many different parts. Some of these parts we are aware of and happy with, others we are aware of but we dislike and we’d rather they weren’t there. In addition to this there are yet other parts of ourselves of which we have no awareness at all. They are missing from our conscious knowledge of ourselves and, as a result of these ‘missing’ parts, our experience of life is limited. Furthermore we can suffer much pain and confusion as these hidden aspects run things from the shadows.
Our shadows make themselves known to us in the sides of ourselves we struggle to understand or accept – aspects that we fear may emotionally overwhelm us or cause harm to ourselves or others. We all have sides of ourselves which cause shame and confusion and they can be the source of much pain and difficulty. Paradoxically the more we try to ignore or hide these sides of ourselves the greater their capacity to disrupt our lives – they can cause relationship rupture, hold us back from going for our goals, sap our energy and stop us from expressing all of who we are.
So what is actually going on here? How can it be that we all have this shadow side? Well most people find that the root goes back to childhood. Shadows are formed when we cut off, repress or deny any part of ourselves, and we all do this in childhood, it is an essential part of surviving and adapting to the world in which we find ourselves. For example, if our parents tell us it is wrong to get angry, then we may take our anger and hide it away in order to gain their approval and love. We may try to convince ourselves that we don’t have anger, it is not a part of us. This decision will help us to survive our childhood in the best way possible. So we put parts of ourselves in to shadow as we react with entirely appropriate, sometimes lifesaving responses to the situations in which we find ourselves. These are the absolute best decisions that we could make at the time and they allow us to survive (and even enjoy) what might otherwise be intolerable.
However, as we reach adulthood and are freed from the constraints of our childhood we find that the decisions which helped us when we were younger can start to hold us back in later life.
If we continue with the above example where a child has put their anger in to shadow, it’s important to understand that it is not the anger itself that forms the shadow. Anger is an entirely natural and necessary part of us. Anger helps to let us know when we are being treated badly or when our boundaries are crossed, and it gives us the energy to take action in the world and to stand up for ourselves and protect those we love. It is not anger that is the shadow here. It is actually losing touch with our anger that is the problem, and it is the behaviours we employ in order to keep our anger hidden that form the shadow. These behaviours will have worked well for us throughout our childhood, but they may start to adversely affect us in adult life. We may not be able to fully experience and enjoy life because of the parts of ourselves we are denying. For example, if we’re denying our anger we may find that we’re not able to stand up for ourselves in adulthood, that others are constantly ‘walking all over us’ because we don’t know how to set our boundaries effectively. We may then find ourselves erupting in rage at some point because we’ve ‘had enough’. This kind of explosive anger can adversely affect our relationships. Alternatively we may use passive aggressive, controlling or manipulative behaviours to get our way, and the people around us may find this confusing and difficult. One way or another we’re likely to run into problems because we don’t have access to our clean, healthy anger.
If we have put something into shadow in this way then we may reach a point in adulthood when we want to re-claim this side of ourselves in order that we can live a happier and more fulfilling life and feel more comfortable with who we are.
For further information about Healing The Shadow work, including details of individual sessions, group work, couple’s work and practitioners trainings visit Marianne’s Website
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